Bipartisan Senate vote advances $35 billion water infrastructure legislation

President Joe Biden has received mixed reviews over his $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan, which Republican critics say contains far too many projects unrelated to traditional infrastructure projects.

In terms of actual infrastructure improvements, however, the GOP is clearly on board, as evidenced by the bipartisan Senate vote this week on a limited funding bill to improve drinking and wastewater programs. 

“Leading to outright catastrophe”

By a margin of 89-2, senators passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, which calls for a $35 billion investment in federal aid to states and municipalities over the next five years to help upgrade related systems.

According to The Hill, the bill would establish two separate programs for upgrades, with one focused on small systems and the other aimed at delivering aid to midsized and large systems.

The measure also includes funding for the replacement of outdated and dangerous lead water pipes, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to review and analyze how prior funding efforts might have disproportionately impacted minority communities.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) wrote the bill, which was crafted in a bipartisan fashion in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. It received co-sponsorship from committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and ranking Republican member Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), among others on the panel.

In a bipartisan statement, the committee asserted: “Millions of Americans do not have consistent access to clean drinking water. Many more live in areas where a single storm or natural disaster could devastate weak and archaic infrastructure, leading to outright catastrophe.”

“Work collaboratively together”

Capito also issued her own remarks, claiming that its passage with support from both parties “shows the American people that their elected officials in Congress can work collaboratively together on infrastructure.”

She was not alone in that opinion, with the widely popular bill being viewed by some senators as a stepping stone toward debate and compromise regarding Biden’s much larger proposal.

Nevertheless, the water-related bill is narrow in scope and far less expensive than the president’s plan. As such, some proponents view it as a model for how to approach issues going forward — namely, by breaking up larger proposals into smaller, more manageable pieces and passing those pieces of legislation for which there is sufficient agreement.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is apparently in that camp, according to the Associated Press, recently declaring: “Maybe we can take the Biden infrastructure plan and do the pieces of it. Where we can get some agreement, do those together. And then the remaining things that we think need to be done, that price tag shrinks a little bit, because we’ve done some other stuff.”

Biden’s proposal seeks to spend $111 billion on water systems. As for the smaller bill that passed in the Senate this week, it remains to be seen how the legislation will fare in the House, where Democrats have signaled a desire for a more robust approach.

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